This month we're honoring the work of Partners In Health nurses with a series of articles about their efforts to care for patients and lead others in strengthening health systems around the world.
At Partners In Health, we’re not only grateful for nurses—we depend on them. Nurses comprise 84 percent of PIH’s clinical staff and deliver the vast majority of care at our sites, from the clinics of Lesotho to the maternity ward of University Hospital in Haiti’s Central Plateau.
“Nurses are the foundation of the care provided in every place we work,” said Sheila Davis, PIH’s chief nursing officer. “These nurses are asked to do a tremendous amount with little or no supplies, backup from other providers, and in some cases, formal education.”
Some nurses work by themselves in remote health facilities serving rural communities in need. Others work in hospitals, delivering complex care for diseases such as cancer.
I don’t know how these nurses do it. There’s no backup.
In the rural mountains of Lesotho, reachable only on foot or by plane, nurses are the primary health care providers for entire communities—conducting prenatal visits, delivering babies, treating HIV, and caring for young children. In Rwanda, they staff rural health centers and provide specialized care, such as chemotherapy for cancer. In Russia, they embark on daily expeditions to ensure vulnerable TB patients take their medicine and have enough food. In Haiti, nurses are playing leadership roles across hospitals and clinics to improve care for specific diseases, including malnutrition, HIV, and tuberculosis.
“I don’t know how these nurses do it. There’s no backup,” said Davis, who also works as a nurse practitioner at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “I was at MGH yesterday, doing an exam on a patient, and I unexpectedly needed help. I called for my colleagues and had 10 people in the exam room within a few minutes. Where PIH works, there’s no such safety net.”
Though nurses provide the majority of care worldwide, they’re often absent from positions of power in health institutions and systems. At the World Health Organization, for example, nursing specialists make up less than 1 percent of professional staff.
PIH is committed to elevating the role of nurses at the sites in which we work and beyond. This month, PIH and Zanmi Lasante, our Haitian sister organization, will celebrate the opening of the Nursing Center of Excellence in Haiti, which will raise the standard of care and sharpen nurses’ critical skills to improve patient outcomes.
In addition, a comprehensive nurse mentorship program developed in collaboration with the Rwandan Ministry of Health is being scaled up and modified for other countries in which we work.
In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be sharing a mix of stories that demonstrate exactly how important nurses are to our work. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating these magnificent medical multitaskers and giving them the credit they deserve.